Director Patrik-Ian Polk has been making a way where there hasn't been a clear path for over 15-years in Hollywood.
Best known for series like Logo’s breakout hit 'Noah’s Arc' and films like 'The Skinny,' which starred then unknown 'Empire' actor Jussie Smollett, Polk’s latest film 'Blackbird,' tackles devout Christianity and sexual identity.
With each project, Polk has been working to break down stigmas and stereotypes that surround the black LGBT community.
“There aren't a lot of black gay films period. Over the past 15 years I've been one of the few [filmmakers] that has explored black gay life," Polk said. “Although I've seen dozens of white gay coming of age stories—unfortunately we don’t get to see a lot of films about black gay subject matter. I’m hoping 'Blackbird' will change that.”
His latest film 'Blackbird,' set in his hometown of Hattiesburg, Mississippi, stars Academy Award winner Mo’Nique, 'Grey’s Anatomy' alum Isaiah Washington and newcomer Julian Walker, explores the complex themes of love, religion, sexual identity and abandonment.
“Although I've seen dozens of white gay coming of age stories—unfortunately we don’t get to see a lot of films about black gay subject matter. I’m hoping 'Blackbird' will change that.”
'Blackbird' is an adaptation of a novel by the same name, which was written by Larry Duplechan in 1986. “I first read the book as a freshman in college 25 years ago. Being from Mississippi I didn't have a lot of exposure to gay culture—reading that book was a life changing experience. It was the first time I read anything that was told through the perspective of a black gay man," Polk commented.
Patrik alongside writer Rikki Beadle Blair have made several tweaks from the novel like location, time frame and family back story; but the premise remains the same—can you love and accept yourself the way God made you?
“The nice thing the author Larry Duplechan did was create this world in a religiously conservative town where the kids are suffocating in different ways," Patrik explains. “How they come together [in the film] to cope with the religious climate keeps to the theme of the book and shows that religion, which is meant to enhance our lives can be used as a weapon of mass destruction," he concludes.
Patrik’s film and thoughts on religion and its potential to cause irreparable harm couldn't be timelier. Just recently 120K people signed a petition to President Obama calling on his Administration to end the practice of conversion therapy.
Conversion therapy, which we get a glimpse of in 'Blackbird,' is a religious practice whose purpose is to change a person’s gender identity and/or sexual orientation.
'Blackbird' also addresses the often-powerful trope of the “broken black family” and the cockeyed notion that the black community is anymore homophobic than anyone else.
In the film, 17-year-old 'Randy' played by Julian Walker, is struggling with sexual desires that conflict with his devotion to God as well as taking care of his distraught mother 'Claire' played by Mo’Nique, who is grieving the kidnapping of his little sister. After learning of her son’s sexual orientation Claire calls on their pastor to help them “pray the gay away."
With regard to conversion therapy Polk shared, “often that is the reaction. That there is a sickness and it can be ‘prayed away.' I thought it was important that we show that—especially since the film is so much about religion and faith. I wanted to be respectful but as painful as it was to see, I wanted to show it.”
'Blackbird' also addresses the often-powerful trope of the “broken black family” and the cockeyed notion that the black community is anymore homophobic than anyone else. It shows audiences that even with the most trying of circumstances—the love of family prevails. “Don’t ask don’t tell [in the black community] doesn't equal homophobia," Polk quips.
With the success of shows like 'Empire' and the release of films like 'Blackbird,' the hope is that these multifaceted stories that explore the diversity within the black community will go a long way in shifting our culture and helping each of us accept each other and the way God (or whomever you believe) made us a little bit more. Polk adds, “popular culture has the ability to change hearts and minds—it has the potential to move people. All we have to do? Be open enough to allow ourselves to be moved.
For more information on 'Blackbird' click here.